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Why Australians deserve a right to privacy

By Greg Barns - posted Friday, 15 August 2008

"There may be a case for saying”, Justice Eady observes, “when 'public interest' has to be considered in the field of privacy, that a judge should enquire whether the relevant journalist's decision prior to publication was reached as a result of carrying out enquiries and checks consistent with 'responsible journalism'."

There is a challenge to the media in Justice Eady’s judgement - if you allow your self-interest in selling copy or boosting ratings to tip the scales in favour of breaching an individual’s right to privacy then you will be punished.

Mr Mosley is not alone in being able to enforce his right to privacy against the media. In May this year the Court of Appeal in the UK said that David Murray, the 5 year old son of JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, was entitled to take action against a photo agency that took photos of him being wheeled in a pram down an Edinburgh street in 2004.


The law, the Court of Appeal said, “should indeed protect children from intrusive media attention, at any rate to the extent of holding that a child has a reasonable expectation that he or she will not be targeted in order to take photographs in a public place for publication which the person who took or procured the taking of the photographs knew would be objected to on behalf of the child.”

Of course, it is not just the media that infringes the right to privacy - so do individuals. Social networking sites like Facebook and My Space are being routinely abused by individuals to publish information or "dirt" on other individuals. Fortunately, the UK courts are utilising the recognised right to privacy to take action against the offenders.

On July 24 a UK TV industry executive Matthew Firsht, and his company Applause Store Productions, won injunctions and £20,000 in damages against a former friend of Firsht who created a Facebook page which defamed Firsht and his company.

Grant Raphael, who fell out with Firsht over a business dealing, established a Facebook group entitled “Has Matthew Firsht lied to you?” The profile contained false information about Firsht’s sexual orientation, his religious and political views. It accused him and his company of shoddy business practices.

Firsht and his company sued Raphael for misuse of private information, breach of his right to privacy and defamation. He won on all three counts.
Australia needs to adopt a privacy regime similar to that which exists in the UK and the Rudd government ought to move quickly to implement the ALRC report. It is time the right to privacy was taken as seriously here as it is in the UK.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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